Together Against Genocide commemorates the 33rd
anniversary of Black July. Over the course of 7 days in July 1983, an indeterminable number of Tamils died or were displaced by targeted, state-sponsored violence. Todate Sri Lanka has not launched a criminal investigation into the pogrom nor made any effort to bring perpetrators to justice.
2016 marks a special year to remember this dark episode of the early conflict. During the June UNHRC session in Geneva, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, recognised the need to investigate criminal liability for genocide arising from the Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in the wake of evidence relating to the use of cluster munitions in the No Fire Zones. Their use has been expressly banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008) and use against a civilian population could constitute a war crime.
TAG calls for any such investigation into genocide to include the events of Black July. Despite being decades apart, both episodes possess hallmarks of latent genocidal intent: the victims were Tamil civilians, proximate Tamil groups were attacked and the state propagated the situation. It is advanced that these hallmarks indicate a deliberate targeting and destruction of proximate Tamil communities by the state. Therefore, in light of these similarities, an investigation into May 2009 warrants an investigation into Black July.
Determining any potential criminal liability for genocide is a considerable milestone in Sri Lanka’s post-war conflict resolution. To achieve this, the government of Sri Lanka (‘GoSL’) must seek to incorporate a raft of international law into their domestic framework:
- Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008);
- Genocide Convention (1948);
- Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’) (1998); and
- UN Model Witness Protection Bill (2001).
In particular, the ratification and adoption of the Rome Statute will be essential to the administration of justice. GoSL is urged to share the Foreign Minister’s zeal by employing the services of the ICC. It has the capacity, expertise and authority to determine liability for both episodes.
To conclude, it should not have taken the use of cluster munitions to reignite the call for criminal responsibility. Criminal investigations are a step in the right direction, however, much more is needed to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation. Incorporating the above mentioned law is another step but, ultimately, this journey will only conclude with the punishment of the senior figures responsible for all, including historical, mass atrocities associated to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.